Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pendle Hill

Harriet Tarlo’s essay ‘Radical Landscapes’, published last year in Jacket 32 lists linguistically innovative poets who ‘have complex and thought-provoking slants on locality, pastoral, land politics and ecology/environment. A non-definitive list of such writers would include Allen Fisher, Peter Larkin, Tony Baker, Richard Caddel, Alan Halsey, Maggie O’Sullivan, Frances Presley, Elaine Randell, Gavin Selerie, Tilla Brading, Jennifer Chalmers, Thomas A. Clark, Martin Corless-Smith, Ian Davidson, Harry Gilonis, Giles Goodland, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Bill Griffiths, Randolph Healy, Nicholas Johnson, Trevor Joyce, Peter Larkin, Helen MacDonald, Barry MacSweeney, Billy Mills, Geraldine Monk, Wendy Mulford, Peter Philpott, Peter Riley, Jeremy Prynne, Maurice Scully, Colin Simms, Geoffrey Squires and Catherine Walsh.’

You wouldn’t necessarily think of some of these writers as ‘landscape poets’ in the sense of having continually written observational poetry about their environment. Geraldine Monk, for example is someone whose writing, according to Tarlo in another essay, ‘'Home-Hills': Place, Nature and Landscape in the Poetry of Geraldine Monk’, treats landscape indirectly and critically, challenging the ‘idealising and pastoral tendencies common in ‘nature poetry’. Monk’s Interregnum is about Pendle in Lancashire, connecting the present day landscape to its dark history as the scene of the Witch Trials of 1612. It includes a series of modern encounters with Pendle Hill - by hikers, bikers, ‘Born Agains’ and ‘Pagans’, each of whom seem to claim the site for themselves. The poem then turns to a fox (hunted like the witches) and looks down on the human elements in the landscape through the eyes of a bird, soaring ‘across uncontrolled / airspace and / forests’. Here we see another feature of contemporary post-pastoral poetry, a rejection of the anthropocentric and an embrace of the ecocentric.

Pendle Hill
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

So far the only poets in Harriet Tarlo’s list who have been discussed on this site are Ian Hamilton Finlay and Thomas A. Clark. So in my next two posts I intend to say something briefly about two more: Colin Simms (whose ‘Rushmore Inhabitation’ is quoted in the ‘Radical Landscapes’ article) and Geoffrey Squires.

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